Take a quick tour of the new and trendy websites on the Internet and you will find the frequent and liberal use of the word “Beta”. In most cases, the word Beta is used almost like a tagline under the company or product name to signify that this offering is new, cool, or different. The purpose is to create a “buzz” or the perception of leadership for an offering.
The term Beta, the second letter of the Greek alphabet (β), is frequently used in the software industry where they give different monikers to different software versions. Before a software product is declared Beta, it is called an “Alpha” version; this is a version that is yet to be tested and has features or functions that are still being developed. A Beta version is a software product that is ready for testing or use by a user group. While bugs may remain, the product is ready for use in the field (perhaps this applies to all Microsoft products, but I digress). After the Beta version is tested and used by the customer, corrections are often made. The final version is then “released” ; this means that it is approved for manufacturing and customer use.
Returning to the Internet, a quick search for the word Beta and you will find thousands of websites all marked Beta, even when they have been in production for years. For example, Google Video and Google Mail both are labeled as Beta versions despite the fact that they have been around for a while. In some cases, the term Beta infers that this is the turf for sophisticated users only. In most cases, we are to believe that these website offerings are just plain cool.
You will also see the word Beta used as a description of something quirky or different ; a quick visit to MySpace will confirm that it is the rage with the 13- 25 year olds. That is “so Beta”, or so they say.
There can be negative connotations to the word Beta. In a dog pack, the Beta animal is a distant second in order of importance and has little authority. In politics, it is a derogatory term used to describe a male candidate: a “beta male” is perceived to be unable to lead his party to victory. Betamax is a 1975 trademarked term for Sony Corporation which describes the notoriously failed Betamax video tape recording format that was trumped by VHS.
So, choose your words carefully. I Beta go now.
John Bradley Jackson
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